Should the U.S. Switch to a Flat Tax?

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Should the U.S. Switch to a Flat Tax?

Death and taxes are the two certainties in life. However, one of those two is immensely more sophisticated than the other.

That is evident in America every April, a month associated with the cold sweats that often accompany people and families rushing to file their taxes on time. It’s a difficult procedure that might include long hours, calculator blisters, irate phone calls to human resource departments, and large cheques given to accountants.

Residents in many other nations throughout the globe are in a similar situation. This is because, like America, most of the world’s major countries have a progressive tax structure with varying rates for different income levels. In most circumstances, persons with the highest incomes pay a larger proportion of their income in taxes than those with lower incomes.

However, other nations have an entirely different tax structure, which some commentators would want to see spread over the globe.

Key Takeaways

  • A flat tax is a system in which everyone, regardless of income, pays the same tax rate.
  • While nations like Estonia have seen their economy expand after instituting a low tax rate, there is no evidence that the tax structure is the cause of the growth.
  • A flat tax rate system has certain disadvantages, including a lack of wealth redistribution, an additional load on middle and lower-income people, and tax rate wars with neighboring nations.

What Is a Flat Tax?

Many governments have opted to levy a flat tax on inhabitants and corporations. To put it another way, everyone pays the same exact rate. Flat tax supporters claim that there are various advantages to employing this system.

Many of the nations that have adopted a flat tax were once part of the Soviet Union. And for the most of the last decade, these nations’ economy have grown quickly. In 2004, ten Eastern European countries imposed a flat tax: Ukraine charged its people 13%, Georgia taxed its nationals 12%, Romania taxed its citizens 16%, and Lithuania taxed its residents 33%. Many of the nations that implemented a flat tax achieved significant economic growth.

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For example, prior to implementing flat taxes of 26%, 33%, and 26%, respectively, Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia were suffering from inefficiency and economic stagnation—and experienced unprecedented growth following the tax reform, more than doubling that seen in the world’s mature, industrialized economies. Estonia saw 9% annual growth (adjusted for inflation); Lithuania emerged as the Baltics’ fastest growing economy; and Latvia experienced 4% annual growth since the flat tax, with inflation falling from 25% in 1995 to less than 4%. 2 a by around 8% in a single year.

According to supporters, the flat tax works because the system is very straightforward. In many situations, it is not only people who benefit from a simple tax law; several countries provide flat taxes to companies as an incentive to attract firms and other employers. Furthermore, the flat tax has an innate feeling of justice since everyone pays the same amount of their income. This also depoliticizes tax rules as they are created, since lawmakers cannot grant preferential or punitive treatment to corporations and sectors they view positively or adversely.

Working Proof

Flat tax advocates often cite Estonia as evidence of the system’s advantages. Estonia, sandwiched between Russia and the Baltic Sea, is a small nation with a population of less than two million people, about the size of Dallas, Texas. Estonian politicians chose a 26% flat tax in 1994, only three years after independence from the Soviet Union, making them the first in the world to abandon the progressive system. Since then, the figure has been cut to 20%.

Estonia has ascended from obscurity to become a member of the European Union after introducing the flat tax. It has also acquired the moniker “The Baltic Tiger” owing to its phenomenal economic development rate. From 2000 to 2008, Estonia’s GDP increased at a 7% annual rate. Despite being harmed by the worldwide Great Recession, it has recovered to 4.9% by 2017. In 2011, its unemployment rate was 13.5%; by 2020, just 6.9% of its people was unemployed. Estonia has also developed a reputation for being remarkably high-tech, with over 89% of its people using the internet, much above the global average.

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Other countries followed Estonia’s example and implemented flat tax policy. Estonia’s Baltic neighbors, Lithuania and Latvia, were the first to sign on. Russia was the second largest economy to implement this legislation. Serbia, Ukraine, Slovakia, Georgia, Romania, Kyrgyzstan, North Macedonia, Mauritius, and Mongolia all followed suit.

So, Why Not Move to a Flat Tax?

First, although there is no question that many countries that have implemented the flat tax have seen economic growth, there is no evidence that the flat tax is the cause of this growth. After all, many of these locations were Communist countries hidden behind the Iron Curtain. After the Soviet Union fell apart, they were able to open up their economies to investment and trade with the richer nations of the West.

Furthermore, a flat tax may not be as equitable as one may believe. A progressive tax system does allow for wealth redistribution, which many think is beneficial to society. A flat tax might also impose an additional hardship on middle-class people. If a millionaire pays 18% of his income in taxes, he still has $820,000 left over at the end of the year, a sum with significant buying power. However, a person earning $50,000 per year is left with $41,000 per year; this difference can influence financial decisions such as whether to buy a new car versus a used car, whether to put down a down payment on a house, or whether to attend a state school or a private college, which is extremely difficult for people earning closer to the national median income level.

Furthermore, when a collection of countries close to each other pass a flat tax, it generates a race to the bottom; in order to compete, nations must continue to cut their tax rates, which might lead to economic instability.

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Finally, many nations who implemented a flat tax suffered tremendously in the aftermath of the 2008 crisis. Consider Latvia, one of the first nations to implement a flat tax. Its overheated economy had a near-complete liquidity crunch, resulting in a 25% drop in GDP between 2008 and 2010, with unemployment reaching roughly 21% of the population. To pay public sector employees, it needed a bailout from the International Monetary Fund.

The nation recovered, but in 2017 it opted to abandon the flat tax on personal income. It currently features a progressive tax system, with rates increasing from 20% to 31% as a taxpayer’s income rises.

During the worldwide Great Recession, Latvia’s Baltic neighbors, Lithuania and Estonia, endured comparable difficulties. Some argue that all of this is evidence that these countries’ tax policy failed to produce adequate revenue. Others, however, argue that these countries depend heavily on exports, which have suffered severely as a result of the global economic crisis.

The Bottom Line

Will the whole globe eventually adopt a flat tax? It’s doubtful, particularly in the world’s largest countries, which have a long-established tax regime that many people may be unwilling to modify. Despite recent setbacks, it is probable that many smaller and rising countries will realize the advantages of charging everyone the same tax.

Correction for November 22, 2021: North Macedonia was originally mistaken in this article.

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